(From left to right) Councillors Ray Hooper and Michie Vidal, Mayor Leo Facio, and councillors Samantha Piper and Gerry Palmer. (Grace Kennedy/The Observer)

Harrison considers using taxes to help fund medical clinic

Residents will have until mid-September to express their opposition

The Village of Harrison could be getting its own medical clinic, so long as local taxpayers are okay with fronting part of the bill.

“This has been an ongoing issue for myself and council over several years,” mayor Leo Facio said during council Monday (July 8). “It seems at last that Fraser Health is coming on board with more viable options for rural communities.”

Facio has advocated for years to get a practicing doctor back into the village, and in early 2018 had sent yet another round of letters to the Ministry of Health advocating for better health care in Harrison.

RELATED: Harrison continues push for local doctor

In June of this year, Fraser Health seemed ready to respond. The health authority met with Harrison council during an in camera meeting on June 3 to discuss potential options for bringing medical services into the community.

The option that was brought forward to the public council meeting on July 8 was a partnership model: a part-time clinic that was paid for by both Fraser Health and the Village of Harrison.

According to staff, the village’s commitment would be around $36,000 a year, and would be paid for out of property taxes. The average cost would be around $20.33 a year for an average residential property of $500,000, and would represent about a 1.8 per cent increase in property taxes.

Although exactly what the medical clinic would look like is still under discussion, Fraser Health said they would be able to provide service from a physician one day a week, as well as service from a nurse practitioner one day a week at the minimum. Whether this would be in the form of a family doctor or a walk-in clinic is unclear.

Opinions on the proposal, both within council and from community members attending the meeting, were divided.

“I’m concerned about the cost, and I’m concerned that it’s a reasonably large subsidy to create a medical service here,” Coun. Gerry Palmer said. “At the same time, I know there’s some strong positives to having an ongoing medical facility in the village.

“It’s a very difficult determination.”

Facio spoke more positively about the proposal, saying that Harrison has been in need of a clinic for many years.

“You have to start somewhere to get an operation moving,” he said. “I remember when Agassiz first started, they had one doctor. One doctor to service the whole area.”

RELATED: Agassiz Community Health Centre expands walk-in hours

“That built up over time,” he added. “These things do happen, but I think it’s a good idea to start the process.”

Harrison resident Mark Ferrero spoke during question period at the end of council, sharing his concerns about paying for a service that he, ostensibly, is already taxed for.

“There is a portion of my property tax that already pays for hospital tax,” Ferrero said. “As a tax payer, not only in the province but the federal government, I think my contribution to health care is more than well-covered. I’m surprised that council would even endorse or consider this.”

“I just don’t feel that Harrison is actually big enough for this,” he added.

After Ferrero’s remarks, Facio responded by repeating the topic had been discussed for many years.

“I know myself, personally, that there’s 19, 20 residents that go to Seabird Island for their medical services. Some are still going to Mission,” he said. “We’re trying to make our area … a healthier place to live.”

Although the idea for a medical clinic was brought up and discussed during council, no decisions will be made on the proposal yet.

First, the village will gauge public opinion with an “Alternative Approval Process” — a type of consultation formerly known as a counter petition.

From now until September 16 at 4 p.m., residents who are not in favour of using property tax dollars to help fund a medical clinic can pick up a form either at the village office or online and sign saying they are opposed to the idea. They will then need to drop their form off at the village office.

RELATED: Relationships, continuity top health-care concerns for Agassiz residents

In order to demonstrate “community opposition,” 125 forms would need to be delivered to the village. (That’s about 10 per cent of all registered voters in Harrison.)

This type of consultation process has been done before in the village, although Palmer had concerns about whether it would really provide the right kind of information to council.

“The question I don’t really have answered is whether people in the village would view this as a major positive that we should be spending the money,” he said. “It’s not going to to answer that question. It’s going to tell us if there are people opposed to it. But there’s no mechanism for people who support it to communicate that to us.

“It’s still going to put me in a bit of a quandary to try and make a decision in the end.”

Even after the alternative approval process is finished, the results won’t hold council to any one particular outcome. Like CAO Madeline McDonald said, it’s more of a way to take the temperature of the community.

“This is simply a methodology by which to gauge the public’s interest in this particular proposed new service,” McDonald said.

After the results come back to council in September, more consultation may be undertaken.



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

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